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Updated: Iowa City police arrest husband in 1997 murder

Woman's body was found in ditch near Rockford three days after reported missing

John Bloomfield
John Bloomfield
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DNA and hair evidence has linked a former University of Iowa researcher now living in St. Paul, Minn., to the 1997 murder of his wife.

According to a press release from the Iowa City Police Department, 73-year-old John Richard Bloomfield was arrested at his St. Paul home Tuesday for the murder of his wife, Frances Bloomfield. He is in custody in Minnesota awaiting extradition to Iowa City.

Frances Bloomfield, 57, who lived at 38 Wakefield Court in Iowa City, was reported missing Sept. 22, 1997, by her husband John — a researcher at the University of Iowa’s Center for Computer-Aided Design — that day. Three days later, Winnebago County, Ill. authorities found a body bound with pantyhose and wrapped in plastic and duct tape in a ditch near Rockford.

Authorities believed Bloomfield had been strangled in her Iowa City home. Court documents released in 1997 revealed investigators who responded to the Bloomfield home found blood stains in two bedrooms on the second floor of the home, as well as a mark that indicated Bloomfield was dragged through the hallway.

A blood stain also was found on the wall at the bottom of the stairs between the first and second floors, and two stains were located on the garage floor, according to the documents, which are detailed in a Nov. 26, 1997, Gazette article.

Her car was later discovered at Newark, N.J., International Airport.

John Bloomfield told authorities he was in the Chicago area returning from a business trip at the time of his wife's death. However, police said Bloomfield was unable to sufficiently account for the time when he would have been driving.

On Tuesday, Iowa City Police Sgt. Vicki Lalla stopped short of saying John Bloomfield always had been a suspect in the case.

"I think it would be safe to say he was always a person of interest," Lalla said.

Lalla said Bloomfield's arrest is an example of police never losing their determination to solve a case.

"We're ever-hopeful something will come to light or something will happen," she said.

Former Johnson County Attorney J. Patrick White said he was pleased by the news of the arrest in the 16-year-old case.

"It was certainly one of the more frustrating unsolved cases," said White, now retired.

White said when he left office the case was "left with insufficient evidence and put away in the hope some day people would have enough time and effort, and something would break."

White said without hesitation that Bloomfield was always a suspect in his wife's murder, but that comes with a caveat.

"I think you always look at people surrounding a murder victim," he said. "Spouses are always a person of interest, if not suspects.

"Depending on what is produced, they can become suspects. Certainly, he was always a person of interest in her case," White added.

The complaint states that a forensic analysis of one of the ligatures used to bind Frances Bloomfield's body contained male DNA. The male DNA was compared to John Bloomfield's DNA.

Police said the Y chromosome profile of the DNA found on the ligature was "consistent" with John Bloomfield's Y chromosome profile.

In addition, a hair was located on tape found on Frances Bloomfield' body that was "microscopically" similar to John's hair.

Police said John Bloomfield has given "inconsistent accounts" of the time leading up to the murder and when he discovered his wife was missing. Bloomfield was interested in another woman, according to police.

Rachel Schwandt, who lived near the Bloomfields for about 10 years in Minneapolis before the couple moved to Iowa City, said she was stunned to hear the news Tuesday.

“It’s always been a mystery to us,” she said of the murder. “None of it added up.”

Schwandt got to know Frances and John Bloomfield at neighborhood social events. The Bloomfields often stopped to chat when they were out walking their dog, she recalled.

“Fran had a terrific sense of humor. She was delightful,” Schwandt said.

Frances Bloomfield worked at the Courage Center, a Minneapolis organization that provides services to people with disabilities, Schwandt said.

When Schwandt learned of Frances Bloomfield’s murder, she did not doubt John Bloomfield’s story that he was in Europe. The Schwandts attended Frances Bloomfield’s funeral at the Lakewood Chapel, where they listened to music by her favorite band, the Beatles.

Schwandt’s not convinced police have the right man, but she hopes the investigation ultimately will bring closure for the family.

Two of the Bloomfields’ Iowa City neighbors said they weren’t surprised by Tuesday’s arrest.

“His story was kind of fishy,” said Mary Lou Hillery, who lived down the street from the Bloomfields.

She remembers the days following Fran Bloomfield’s murder when sightseers visited Wakefield Court and friends would ask about the murder investigation. Hillery has been interviewed by police three times over the years, most recently a few months ago, which she saw as a hint there might be a break in the case.

Leon Schlueter was out of town when Fran Bloomfield was killed, but always suspected her husband. “No, I’m not surprised,” he said Tuesday.

UI spokesman Tom Moore said Bloomfield was hired as a research scientist in August 1994. Bloomfield left the UI seven months after his wife’s disappearance.

According to the University of Minnesota website, John Bloomfield was research associate at the university's Center for Design in Health.

The center's director, Kathleen Harder, said Bloomfield was hired in March 2000 and retired three or four years ago. Harder said she was not comfortable commenting on Bloomfield's arrest.

First-degree murder is a class A felony punishable by life in prison.

Gazette reporters Vanessa Miller and Erin Jordan contributed to this report.

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